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It’s about Time

In my first call as pastor, I remember when early June came around I was struck by an unwelcome realization: after 20+ years of living by the school calendar and having summers “off,” I was required to work all summer long! Well, it turned out that summer in the parish did feel a bit different -- Wednesday nights were reserved for joining several members in the golf league, for instance -- but even with Summer Hours, Sunday came every seven days whether I was ready or not. As many of us transition to summer schedules, I’m glad that Marcia Shetler’s piece below considers stewardship of time and the church’s life. Time, after all, is an important gift for the church to ponder -- whether on the golf course, at the pool, or in the pew.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders


It’s about Time

Marcia Shetler

You might know the story about the man who was baptized -- as an adult, by immersion -- and at the last minute held his wallet out of the water. It’s been an illustration for many a stewardship sermon. The man was ready to let God have control over all of his life except his money. We may chuckle at that story, but in North American culture, it’s a common attitude.

If I was the one in the baptismal pool, I wouldn’t have qualms about my wallet or purse getting wet. I would have more trouble dunking my datebook. My schedule? My time? That’s the dimension over which I have struggles releasing control.

A definition of stewardship that has been popular over the years is “time, talent, and treasure.” It’s an attempt to simply describe the complexity and comprehensiveness of stewardship, which Clarence Stoughton has defined as “everything we do after we say, ‘We believe’” (which is what we affirm right before sinking into those baptismal waters). In today’s congregations, conversations about stewardship might address the three Ts in the reverse of how they are ordered above. They may conduct an annual congregational financial stewardship emphasis. They may have a system for gathering information about church members’ gifts and skills. But talking about stewardship as giving time? Broaching that subject with the hyper-scheduled persons in the pews may be becoming increasingly difficult.

The fact is, though, that the amount of time that persons are investing in the church is shrinking, perhaps faster than the dollars they are giving. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary completed their fifth national survey of congregations in 2015. It includes responses from over 32,000 randomly-sampled US congregations from a variety of denominations and faith traditions. It found that for the first time, median attendance for all American churches is less than 100. The Pew Research Center’s found that between 2007 and 2014, those who said they attended church weekly or more often dropped from nearly 40 percent to about 35.5 percent, and those who said they attended only a few times a year or less rose from about 45 percent to about 50 percent.

Scarcity or abundance?

How can congregations address this issue? Michelle Van Loon, blogger for Christianity Today, says that an attitude of fear can lead to “attendance bullying.” The All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, is creating a culture of abundance, not scarcity, in this era of shifting paradigms. Zachary First is Executive Director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont University and a member of All Saints. He wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review (yes -- the Harvard Business Review!) about the approach the congregation is taking: measuring engagement.

Zachary says All Saints is “replacing the old question -- How do we grow our membership? -- with a better one: How do we more deeply engage the people we serve?” By measuring every level of engagement, pastoral staff find ways to meaningfully connect with their parishioners, who in turn become more involved in congregational life. In the article, Zach shares a story about a teenage girl who became more engaged through the congregation’s youth ministry because the youth director learned of her love of board games and invited her to attend game night. Who knows how this young woman might serve God throughout her life because of this one simple act of engagement? All Saints sees the power of engagement in their giving data as well: for every additional year a person makes a financial pledge, it increases by 8%.

Talk about time!

Time, talent, and treasure: each of these aspects of Christian stewardship is important. Church leaders should consider engaging their congregations in conversations about meaningful use of time to serve God’s church. In the process, you’ll probably gain new insights about your church’s mission and ministry in a whole new way. It’s time…to talk about time.

More Information

Marcia Shetler has been serving as Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center since March 2011. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible Certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and most recently was director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position.

Stewardship Speaker Series: Join us on campus this summer (June 16, July 21, August 18) for breakfast as we hear from groundbreaking stewardship leaders practicing distinctive, top-notch stewardship. Come to one ever -- or all three! All events are free and open to the public. For more information, and to register, visit www.luthersem.edu/stewlead

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information visit:www.luthersem.edu/ECRF.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Time image by Sean MacEntee; Creative Commons Image on Flickr.

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